OSA Brown Bag: A Quest to Save Sacred Waters in the Maya World: A Project Featuring Community-based Participatory Research in Archaeology and Anthropology
Mar 13, 2020
700 South Clinton Street, Iowa City, IA 52240
Join us for this Brown Bag talk by Khristin Landry-Montes.
About the Presentation:
The karst landscape of Yucatán, Mexico is dotted with thousands of sinkholes that provide access to fresh water. These features, called cenotes in Spanish and ts’ono’ot in Yucatec Mayan, range from closed caverns with water inside of them to “open cenotes” that appear as surface pounds. In any of their forms, cenotes, and the underground aquifer system that connects them, are the only continual source of naturally occurring fresh water in the area. Because of this, and because they are truly otherworldly places, cenotes were conceived by the ancient Maya as the abodes of rain gods and portals to the underworld. Such importance is evidenced via the archaeological material preserved in cenotes. For example, precious remains of jade, gold, and even human sacrifices have been archaeologically recovered from several cenotes throughout Yucatán. Cenotes and associated offerings were also documented by the ancient Maya themselves in beautifully painted books of ritual and prophecy now referred to as the “Maya Codices.” Today, cenotes remain culturally important to most Maya communities of the area. Some are sites of ritual activity while many others are now developed for tourism and serve as important economic resources. Despite their cultural and economic importance, however, several cenotes are increasingly endangered by contamination caused by industrial and agricultural run-off, trash dumping, chemical and waste contamination, and unsustainable recreational use. One approach to mitigating these threats is through community-driven educational programming aimed at mobilizing Maya youth to study and conserve cenotes in their communities. In 2018, InHerit: Indigenous Heritage Passed to Present, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, collaborated with students and faculty at the Universidad de Oriente in Valladolid, Yucatán, along with teachers at nine middle schools in Maya communities, to develop sustainable experiential education curricula related to cenote conservation, water quality monitoring, and archaeological and cultural heritage. The project was supported by funding from a National Geographic Society grant with the overarching goal of supporting Indigenous agency in creating lasting social change. We are delighted to share our project’s initial outcomes during a Brown Bag at the OSA.
About the Presenter:
Khristin Landry Montes, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of art history at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa where she also teaches courses as part of the College’s new archaeology major. Her specialties include the art, architecture and archaeology of ancient Maya cities in Yucatán, Mexico as well as the art of Latin America. Khristin is also a research affiliate with InHerit, Indigenous Heritage Passed to Present based at the University of North Carolina and she continues projects focused on social justice in contemporary Indigenous American communities with this organization. She holds a PhD in art history, dual MAs in art history and anthropology from Northern Illinois University, a certification in Museum Studies from Northern Illinois University, and a Bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Northern Colorado.
About the Series:
Brown Bags at the Office of the State Archaeologist is a semi-regular series where OSA staff and guests share their research over the noon hour. Topics include individuals’ areas of interest, work in the field, and developments in archaeology and architectural history throughout Iowa and the Midwest. Guest speakers whose expertise is in other areas pertaining to archaeology or ethnohistory may be invited throughout the year as well.
These presentations are free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to engage in discussion and exchange following the presentation.
A limited number of metered parking spots are available in the OSA parking lot. The remainder of the parking lot is for permit holders only.
Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa–sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact in advance at